Israel 'Adamantly Opposes' Polish Parliament's Approval of Controversial Holocaust Bill

Israeli officials say bill amounts to Holocaust denial, demand ambassador recalled ■ Lawmaker: Poland 'spitting in Israel's face' ■ Yad Vashem criticizes bill: 'Distortion of historical truth'

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks at a commemoration event at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, during the ceremonies marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day, near Oswiecim, Poland, January 27, 2018.
\ KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS

Israel said on Thursday it "adamantly opposes" a bill that was passed by the Polish Senate overnight, which would criminalize accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes. Israeli officials criticized Poland, with some demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recall the ambassador to Poland over the legislation.

"Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. "No law will change the facts."

The bill, now pending the approval of President Andrzej Duda, passed a Senate vote overnight despite assurances that dialogue on the legislation would be held with Israel before a vote takes place.

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An Israeli official expressed "deep disappointment given the fact that the relationship between the two countries is important to both sides." He added that "the law's passage goes against the spirit of the conversation between the two prime ministers [last] Sunday."

Earlier, Likud Minister Yisrael Katz demanded Netanyahu recall Israel's ambassador to Poland over the bill. Minister Yoav Gallant said the bill amounts to Holocaust denial, with lawmaker and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni describing it as "spitting in Israel's face."

"The [draft] law passed by the Poles is serious and constitutes a denial of responsibility and of Poland's role in the Jewish Holocaust," Katz said after Polish lawmakers backed the bill. "In the balance between political and moral considerations, a clear decision must be taken – commemorating the victims of the Holocaust over any other consideration."

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant tweeted against the bill, saying "The bill that passed tonight by the Senate in Poland is Holocaust denial. The memory of six million is stronger than any law. We will internalize their memory and remember the lesson- that we must defend ourselves by our own strength."

MK Zipi Livni (Zionist Union) said the approval of the law is “unacceptable and spitting in the face of Israel twice, both as the nation of the Jewish people and also against the prime minister who announced he had reached agreements with the Poles – if there were such [understandings].

"Israel needs to respond firmly, to immediately and openly put on the agenda the documentation of the crimes by Poles during the Holocaust and to send a clear message: We won't allow them to cause the past to be forgotten.”

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The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem harshly criticized the bill. “It is very disappointing that Poland chose, despite the difficulties with the present wording [of the law] and the harsh protests, to approve the problematic law that could well cause a distortion of the historical truth because of the limitations it places on various expressions concerning the cooperation of parts of the Polish population – directly and indirectly – with the crimes committed on their land during the period of the Holocaust.”

Yad Vashem says it differentiates between the ban on using phrases such as “Polish death camps” – which it also agrees is incorrect –  and “other elements” of the law, which include sections that ban speaking about the part of the “Polish people” in the Nazi crimes or crimes against humanity.

These sections of the law “endanger the free and candid discussion of the part of members of the Polish people in the persecution of Jews during the [Holocaust] period,” said Yad Vashem. 

“Yad Vashem will continue to support research that endeavors to uncover the complex truth about the relationship of the Polish population to the Jews during the period of the Holocaust and will promote activities for education and commemoration in this spirit.”

Poland's PAP news agency reported 57 senators voted for the draft bill, with 23 against and two abstentions.

"We have to send a clear signal to the world that we won't allow for Poland to continue being insulted," Patryk Jaki, a deputy justice minister, told reporters in parliament.

The legislation, which bans any claims that the Polish people or Polish state were responsible or complicit in the Nazis' crimes, also bans minimizing the responsibility of "the real perpetrators" for these crimes.

Media reports of the lower house's passage of the bill last Friday created a political, public and media storm in Israel. Israeli officials took several steps in response, including a telephone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki.